Making Flours and Ground Meals at Home
Whether people want fresher ingredients, more variety in their diet, or want to have quality control, more people are making their own flour at home. This is especially true for those people who want to experiment with some of the more unusual flours, such as amaranth or prickly pear cactus seed flour.
Some are more worried about meals, such as flaxseed, going rancid, or want to control the purity of their food since many large factories may have problems with insects or rodents. For many people, making ground meals and flour at home is becoming not just an experiment but a way of life.
Making your own is somewhat time-consuming, but the effort may be well-rewarded in the freshest and purest possible ground meals and flours without any added conditioners or food preservatives. If organic ingredients are important to you, you will have some control over the sources of your ingredients.
What You Need
Regardless of the kind of flour or ground meal you intend to make (oat, amaranth, quinoa, flaxseed, prickly pear cactus seed flour, and chickpea are very popular varieties), the equipment will remain the same.
- A mode of grinding.
- The seeds themselves.
- An airtight container to store the finished product in.
In ancient times, people ground flour between two stones (in my part of the world, it's called a metate). This can still be done using a stone plate and a stone. You will get a real workout doing this by hand, but if you intend to grind seeds or grains without using electricity or water power, this is the way to accomplish this with only manual labour.
If you plan on experimenting, start with a very small quantity of material, and see how long it takes you. Factor in your tiredness, and you will have a good idea of how long it will take to grind flour by hand. You'll also have an appreciation for all the countless generations of people who ground their grain this way!
Home Grinding Mills
A grinding mill is the easiest way for novices to begin to make their own flours and meals. You should choose a grinder that does not get too hot, or you will end up with a mess and possibly a burnt-out motor.
Mills come in hand-cranked versions, standalone grinders, and attachments for your stand mixer. Fortunately, the hand-cranked mills will not overheat since they do not have a motor.
Blenders and coffee mills are not suitable for grinding flours and meals because they just don't have enough power, so you will need equipment made for grinding flours. A few varieties of seeds can be very carefully ground in a food processor (but you must pulse it, otherwise, it will turn into a seed butter).
The Process of Grinding
Whether you use a hand-powered mill, an electric-powered mill, or a grinding stone, the process is the same. You will use either crushing or cutting pressure to open the seeds and then work them to get a fine powder to use in cooking and baking.
Don't grind too fine, or you can end up with "seed butter," very similar to peanut butter. (You may be familiar with tahini, which is sesame seed butter.) Machines vary widely, and to get the fineness of ground flour, it may take several passes through the grinder, with subsequent grindings on finer settings if you have an adjustable machine. Mills with adjustable settings are highly recommended if you want fine flour for cakes and pastries.
What Seeds Can I Make Into Flour?
Basically, any kind of seed or cereal can be ground into flour. While most of us are familiar with wheat, any number of seeds can be made into flour, and each of those kinds of seeds have unique nutritional benefits.
- Khorasan Wheat: This is sold under the KAMUT brand name. It is an ancient variety of wheat that is higher in protein than modern commercially available kinds of wheat.
- Rye: Rye seeds are high in protein fiber, especially in lignans, which act as powerful antioxidants. Rye is lower in gluten than wheat and may be better tolerated by gluten-sensitive individuals.
- Barley: Barley has eight essential amino acids and can regulate blood sugar for up to ten hours after eating it. Barley must be hulled before being eaten or ground into the grain, but pearl barley has the bran (the most nutritious part) removed.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is another high-protein food that has an unpleasant soapy outer coating. If you are buying unprocessed quinoa, soak it first (the soaking water may be saved to make shampoo or a liquid suitable for cleaning clothing). Processed quinoa ready for consumption will have the soapy coating removed.
- Buckwheat: Buckwheat is high in protein and amino acids and is free of gluten. In addition to the familiar buckwheat pancakes, it can also be baked into bread or prepared as buckwheat noodles.
- Oats: Oats can be ground into flour and used for baking, especially in cookies. Oat proteins are nearly equivalent to meat, dairy and egg proteins and, therefore, are useful to people following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
- Amaranth: Amaranth is rapidly gaining popularity thanks to its extremely high protein content and essential amino acids such as lysine. Amaranth also contains a high amount of dietary fiber and is rich in dietary minerals. Amaranth flour is also gluten-free.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed is becoming more popular because of its high protein content and high omega-3 oil content (similar to salmon and other fatty cold-water fish). Flaxseed is one of the best meals to grind yourself, as it is the best ground just before use. Flaxseed can go rancid in as little as one week, so it is worth grinding at home. (You can store whole flax seeds almost indefinitely, so go ahead and buy the whole seeds in bulk.)
- Spelt: Spelt contains gluten and is suitable for baking. An ancient wheat hybrid, spelt contains high levels of niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. It is popular for its many health benefits because of its high vitamin and dietary mineral content.
- Teff: Although teff contains gluten, it is suitable for consumption by most people who are on gluten-free diets because the form of gluten is different from that found in wheat. Teff is high in protein and calcium and contains all eight essential amino acids, as well as exceptionally high levels of lysine and dietary fiber.
- Sesame Seeds: Sesame seeds are high in iron, magnesium, and calcium. They have almost 25% protein, have a good amount of vitamin B6, and of course, they taste delicious! If your family is averse to trying new kinds of flours, sesame flour might be the ideal way to introduce family members to new tastes.
- Chickpea (Garbanzo): Chickpea flour is very popular in Italy, especially in making crusts for pizza. Garbanzo beans are very high in potassium and are a good source of many other essential minerals. This is also one of the oldest cultivated legumes in history, so if you want to experiment with a return to a more primitive diet, chickpeas are the way to go! They are also easy to grow and harvest, even in a confined space.
Without the normal amounts and kinds of preservatives that are typically added to commercial flours, rancidity can be a real problem. You will want to keep your freshly-ground meal or flour in an airtight container and store it in a cool place even if you plan to use it soon.
In my case, I usually grind more than I need, and I store mine in leftover glass jars in the freezer, but any airtight storage container in the freezer will work. I use glass as the contents are less likely to pick up odors from other things in the freezer.
If you store your flour at room temperature, you can very likely, depending on the type of seed, get by within a few weeks, but any longer than that, and the freezer is your best option.
There are several benefits to grinding your own meals and flour at home.
- You will be living more sustainably because you are producing the flour rather than consuming resources to buy already-ground flour.
- You will have the freshest ingredients and the highest purity of ingredients. Especially if you live in the United States, you may be astonished (or even horrified) by the federally allowable number of insect parts, rodent droppings, and other foreign substances in flour.
- You will have access to all kinds of meals and flours that are not commercially available: amaranth flour, prickly pear cactus seed flour, barley flour, millet flour, oat flour, and more. Grinding your own seed is certainly necessary if you grow these plants yourself.
- The grains will retain more of their nutrients because they are being stored whole until just before they are needed.
- You will have the best-tasting bread and baked goods you can imagine because you are using the freshest and purest ingredients.
Questions & Answers
Question: Should I toast grains before grinding them?
Answer: That depends on your intended use. If you intend to use a grain as a flour substitute, you should know that flour is not toasted before grinding. If you want to use a grain for a different purpose, then you can try toasting a small quantity.
Question: I was told to thoroughly rinse amaranth seeds before cooking to avoid a bitter taste. Could I grind the seeds instead to get rid of the bitter taste?
Answer: No, grinding the seeds won't get rid of the bitter taste. The bitter taste is caused by a coating on the grains. Just grinding the seeds will not get rid of the coating. Rinse the grains in water until the water runs clear, then spread out the grains to dry. Once they are dry you can grind them. The same goes for quinoa grains.
Question: I can't wash and dry amaranth. Can I just grind and toast the powder if I am ready to tolerate that little bitter taste, or is that bitterness some toxin and bad for consumption?
Answer: The phytochemicals (which cause the bitterness) can reduce nutrient absorption (in other words, you'll be eating empty calories). I would suggest reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth#Phytochemic... and following the links and then making your own judgment. I wash and dry seeds all the time and don't have a problem--it was just a matter of finding enough finely-woven cloth to drain it. Then I spread it on a cloth on a wire rack to let it dry.